The Axe of Wandsbek

(Das Beil von Wandsbek)

GDR, 1951, 111 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


Hamburg, Germany 1934: An executioner is needed. Teetjen (Erwin Geschonneck) makes the biggest mistake of his life. Because his butcher shop is facing bankruptcy, he agrees to execute a group of political prisoners for the Nazis. Once this becomes known, Teetjen’s life falls apart.


The Axe of Wandsbek was the only DEFA film made by Falk Harnack, a former anti-Nazi resistance fighter who was interested in exploring the involvement of the middle class in Nazi crimes. Despite positive reviews, the film was withdrawn shortly after its premiere; it became the first East German film ever to be banned.


The film is adapted from one of the most important works by German-Jewish author Arnold Zweig; basing the story on real events, Zweig wrote the novel in exile in Palestine in 1943.


2010 Shown at the New York Jewish Film Festival 

Press comments

“A rediscovered treasure from post-war German cinema.”
— Anne Nelson, author of Red Orchestra


“Credits are top grade!”


“The psychologically nuanced film version of Arnold Zweig's novel was the only Babelsberg film directed by Falk Harnack, who at the time, mainly worked as a stage director, and who during the Nazi regime, was in active opposition to the state. The excellent Erwin Geschonneck plays the part of Teetjen the butcher...”
— Heinz Kersten in the Berlin Tagesspiegel on April 14, 1974


Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • Falk Harnack: A Stubborn German Conscience, filmed interview with Anne Nelson, 2009
  • “Käthe Braun on Falk Harnack,” interview by Ralf Schenk
  • “The Axe Affair,” essay by Deborah Vietor-Englände
  • "Postscript: A Letter to Author Arnold Zweig"

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